How many times has a sailor been asked that question by a non-sailor (formerly known as landlubbers, but the P.C. police probably don’t like the word…)? I’ve been asked it a lot, and I’ve heard others being asked the question too.
My answer is that it’s not any harder than you want to make it, and, as long as you aren’t racing or heading to a specific destination, you just trim the boat for fun, comfortable sailing, and ENJOY it!
Unfortunately, I’ve also heard the yacht-clubby, blue blazered types make it sound like it’s so difficult that King Arthurs’ royal alchemists probably couldn’t do it, which does nothing for sailing’s reputation. Or for blue blazers.
There are really just a few strings to pull… the halyards haul up the sail, the sheets are the name for the lines that trim the sail in and out, and then there are some other strings that help you fine tune the sail shape, when you are ready to try that. I find an explanation like that beats the heck out of a 10 hour course in nautical nomenclature.
Of course, all opinions have at least a slight root in the truth and/or history, so, in that vein, I’ve included a diagram of a boat with a few more strings to pull than the usual present day vessel. Click for the full sized version.